Preview: Week 53

With a packed annual schedule theatre makers at The Lowry have imagined another week in the year to do exactly what they want, writes Richard Smirke

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The North West already has a packed arts and cultural calendar 52 weeks of the year, so a new annual festival of contemporary dance, art, music, performance and theatre has been dubbed Week 53.

The week is in fact 11 consecutive days and nights hosted by The Lowry, in which every available space of the Salford Quays venue will play home to a programme of innovative and newly commissioned work by more than 200 international artists. To distinguish the festival from The Lowry’s regular schedule of events, curators and performers will use the building’s hidden and typically off-limits areas, including various backstage and storage facilities.

“As a venue we already present and commission more than 1,000 performances every year and work with around 350 companies,” explains The Lowry’s chief executive Julia Fawcett. “But within that mix, we were still really conscious that there were loads of opportunities to work collaboratively with organisations and artists that we weren’t getting around to. The genesis of Week 53 was this idea of: ‘What if we had an extra week each year to do exactly what we wanted and play with the building in a way that we have never done before?’”

The theme for the festival’s inaugural year is exploring ideas of identity and place, with highlights including the largest solo exhibition to date by award-winning British artist Katie Paterson, the premiere of 2MagpiesTheatre’s provocative play Last Resort, about torture at Guantanamo Bay, and 30 Days Of The Smiths – a sound installation by Oberman Knocks in which which real people called Smith reflect on life in Salford to a soundtrack of the band’s songs. This was personally approved by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, making it the first authorised use of their music in the theatre.

“Everyone told us that it would be impossible to get those permissions. They’d never been secured before,” explains Fawcett. “The fact that we weren’t trying to do a musical pastiche featuring the greatest hits of The Smiths, and we were using their music to tell true narratives about regular people living in Salford right now, I think they found appealing.”

Other events to look out for include Clod Ensemble’s performance poem An Anatomie in Four Quarters – in which an audience of 200 people journey through an otherwise empty auditorium to witness a visceral multi-sensory show – and the participatory event 100% Salford, featuring 100 local volunteers who mirror Salford’s demographic makeup, culminating in two live performances.

“What we’re hoping for is that each member of the audience will find somebody onstage who they can relate to,” says the show’s project manager Jenny Doherty, who personally interviewed all 100 cast members, discovering a wealth of extraordinary stories about ordinary people and where they live in the process.

“If I had to think of one phrase to describe the people of Salford it is ‘salt of the earth’” she adds, promising a show that both inspires and shines a light on the realities of modern life.
“There’s going to be lots of laughter. Maybe a few tears even. It’s quite a thought-provoking process and it’s going to be a highly emotional performance.”

Week 53 is at The Lowry, Salford, 28 April-8 May

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